NRL: Nelson Asofa-Solomona returns to Melbourne Storm training after Covid vax stand-off

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NRL star Nelson Asofa-Solomona returned to Melbourne Storm training on Thursday after a Covid-19 vaccine stand-off that lasted months and dominated off-season headlines.

The premiership-winning forward had previously been reluctant to become vaccinated against Covid-19, and with the days ticking down to round one, a question mark hung over his future at NRL level.

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Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton had outlined to Asofa-Solomona the consequences remaining unvaccinated could have, but the 25-year-old opted to continue training away from his teammates rather than roll up his sleeve.

On Thursday, the Storm confirmed Asofa-Solomona had made his return to training “after providing all necessary information and certification to comply with” the Victorian government’s vaccine mandate for professional athletes.

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Club officials wouldn’t confirm if he’d been vaccinated or had an exemption from the state’s notoriously tough mandate.

“It is great to have Nelson back at the club and back with his teammates,” Storm chief executive Justin Rodski said.

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Rodski said Asofa-Solomona was fit and firing ahead of the 2022 season, having kept up a training regimen while he was banned from training with the Storm.

“It has been a slightly interrupted build-up for Nelson but importantly he has been completing his own individual training program over the last few months away from the club,” Rodski explained.

“He has returned to training in good shape and we are confident he will be ready for selection ahead of round 1 of the season.”

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Camera IconNelson Asofa-Solomona returned to training with the Storm on Thursday at AAMI Park. Credit: Supplied

Asofa-Solomona admitted he was “pretty nervous” for his first day back.

“I think I was more nervous about what I was in for. I knew the Storm wasn’t going to take it easy on me coming back,” he said.

“They put me through my paces straight away.”

Asofa-Solomona said training away from the squad had its difficulties.

“It’s always challenging doing stuff by myself,” he said.

“I’d just try to make it fun so I could get a good sweat up and get a bit of cardio and stuff. I did a lot of weight training.”

The towering Kiwi said he was thrilled to be part of the Storm’s plans to improve on last year’s early exit from the finals series.

“As soon as I knew I was coming back to the Storm, I had a talk with ‘Belza’ (coach Craig Bellamy) and Frank (general manager Frank Ponissi),” he said.

“I’m stoked to be back. I’m 100 per cent on-board this year.”

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Camera IconAsofa-Solomona is back at the office. Credit: Supplied

Less than 10 NRL players remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 ahead of the 2022 season, which begins on March 10.

While the NRL has not imposed a league-wide jab mandate, players won’t be able to take the field in Victoria or Queensland if they have not been fully vaccinated.

Late last month, Newton said he was “optimistic” those who were still unvaccinated would remain in the game despite the challenges posed by refusing the jab.

“We’re still optimistic about ensuring that we don’t see any other players exit the NRL,” said Newton after Bulldogs recruit John Asiata became the first player to quit the league over his vaccination status.

“We certainly think that would be a real shame for everyone given the fact that I think we can get through it.

“But I think that is still a work in progress with some of the players.”

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